Parish History:Donn Russell Brown

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DONN RUSSELL BROWN, son of Kenneth C. and Mabel (Higgins) Brown, was born 29 January 1933 in Erie, Pennsylvania. His father was vice president of Meadow Brook Dairy in Erie, a large regional milk distributor. After high school, he attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, interrupted his studies to serve in the U.S. Army in Korea from 1954-1955, and graduated from Brown in 1957 with an A.B. degree. He graduated from Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) degree in 1960. He was ordained a deacon in June 1960 and a priest in December 1960 by the Rt. Rev. John Seville Higgins, Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island. He was married to Elizabeth Hoctor, daughter of M. Frank and Elizabeth E. (Macdonald) Hoctor of Warwick, Rhode Island on 16 January 1954 in Providence, Rhode Island, shortly before he left for Korea. They had four children.

His first assignment in his lifelong ministry was as curate at Church of the Good Shepherd in Providence. Donn and and his wife Betsy volunteered many summer hours at the Episcopal Conference Center (ECC) in Pascoag, Rhode Island, a diocese-owned summer camp for kids. In 1962, he assumed the pulpit at St. Martin's Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. After a long struggle with cancer, Betsy died in December 1964, leaving him with four young sons. He married a second time, to Nancy Ruth Ferry, daughter of Henry F. and Vivian G. (Anderson) Ferry of Pawtucket on 22 May 1965 in Pawtucket. In April 1966, the family moved to Pascoag where Father Brown became rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pascoag, Rhode Island and vicar at the mission parish of the Church of the Messiah in Foster, Rhode Island.

In the summer of 1968, the Rev. Donn R. Brown succeeded the Rev. Mattocks at rector at St. Andrew's Church in Ayer, Massachusetts. He and his wife Nancy moved to Ayer with their growing family of six boys; a seventh son was born in 1971. Because St. Andrew's Church had changed very little in many ways since its founding, Father Brown's vision for this parish proved to be a huge challenge.

One of his first priorities was to upgrade and bring new life into the building. A planning committee was formed in 1970, working with parishioner and talented architect Bayard Underwood, who generously provided an ambitious design for both the interior of the church and a new adjoining glass pavilion to be known as the "Peabody Room". Construction started in August 1971 and the congregation met in the nearby Parish Hall until the work was completed in the spring of 1972. The dark wood ceiling gave way to bright white, with exposed beams and improved lighting. New carpeting, a new altar, the new meeting space, and a new walkway of cement squares were some of the many visible improvements.

About the same time, the Episcopal Church began to introduce major revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, unchanged since 1928. During the years of revision, Rev. Brown, like rectors throughout the Church, had to balance the wishes of his older, more traditional parishioners with those of his younger, more progressive parishioners. Although the changes were difficult, in his words,
I felt the very powerful presence of God the Holy spirit operating through an unusual combination of people, marked by unusual energy. Worship was the center of our parish life, and very soon we moved to the service of Holy Communion as our principal act of worship every Sunday. Soon 'green books', and then the 'zebra book' were introduced, along with changes in music that were fun and exciting for some and regarded as outrageous by others.
Rev. Donn Russell Brown
Rev. Brown slowly phased out the old prayer book by providing the more traditional parishioners a separate service. At the same time, he encouraged parishioners to participate in modern ecumenical movements, such as Cursillo. He increased the active participation in the mass by lay-persons.

A lot was happening in Ayer in the early 1970s. The war in Vietnam put a strain on a community of many Army veteran families in Ayer. Controversy may be bad, or good. Father Brown had many controversial ideas, and history has proven that it was good. Among many of the things he supported were the Army soldiers serving our country in a time when it was more popular to curse them. It gave him great pride to serve as a chaplain to Fort Devens families. Father Brown also recognized the equality of all in God's eyes, and the teachings Jesus gave us about passion for all, and so at great risk he supported the ordaining of women.

In the years Reverend Brown served here at St Andrews he endured 2 heart attacks. His doctors advised that continuing parish ministry would be a serious health risk. In 1975 he was offered a fellowship at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, and he took a position as the chaplain for Saint Ann's School for Girls in nearby Arlington. After a few years and continuing struggles with heart disease he chose to transition into partial retirement, and moved to Narragansett, Rhode Island as interim rector of St. Peter's by the Sea. He also served as interim rector for St. John's, Saunderstown, Rhode Island when their priest died.

Later, Father Brown finally retired, but kept active in many organizations and charities. He was an active member of the Galilee Mission for Fishermen, a member of the Inez Sprague Committee, and an associate of the Society of St John the Evangelist.

The Rev. Donn Russell Brown died after a long struggle with heart disease on 19 May 1992 in Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 59. Colleagues, friends, and family filled St. John's Cathedral in Providence for his memorial service. His family later scattered his ashes on the grounds of the Episcopal Conference Center in Pascoag, Rhode Island.

In December 1992, at St. Andrew's centennial celebration of the dedication our church building, we were fortunate to have his widow, Nancy, in our presence for the ceremonies. Nancy lives in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Their seven sons reside in six different states from Rhode Island to Oregon.
Sources:
1. Brown, Nancy Seasons of the Heart (Cedar Park, Texas: Script Savant, 1993)
2. Episcopal Clerical Directory 1991 (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1991), 93.
3. Hamill, Sarah 100th Anniversary St. Andrew's Church Ayer, Massachusetts (Ayer, Massachusetts: St. Andrew's Church, 1992), 10-12.
4. Hoctor, Christopher Brown Donn Brown Short Bio for St Andrews History Available on line at Ancestry.com
5. "Rev. D.R. Brown; head of Ascension Church," Providence Journal, Providence, 20 May 1992.

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